President Donald J. Trump Reportedly Ordered Gary Cohn and John Kelly to File United States Department of Justice Lawsuit Blocking the AT&T/Time Warner Merger

On Monday, March 4, 2019, The New Yorker published an article online written by Jane Mayer chronicling the ties between the White House and Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News. The article, titled “The Making of the Fox News White House,” will be published in the print edition of the March 11, 2019 issue of The New Yorker, under the headline “Trump TV.” In the article, Mayer quotes a former White House official as stating that “[t]he President does not understand the nuances of antitrust law or policy. . . [b]ut he wanted to bring down the hammer” with regards to the AT&T/Time Warner merger. 

President Donald J. Trump has publicly criticized the AT&T/Time Warner merger as “not good for the country” and, as such, has promised that he was “not going to get involved.” However, as Mayer reports in her article, President Trump ordered then director of the National Economic Council, Gary Cohn, and then chief of staff, John Kelly, to push the Department of Justice to file suit in an attempt to block the merger. Mayer reports that Trump stated to Kelly, “I’ve been telling Cohn to get this lawsuit filed and nothing’s happened! I’ve mentioned it fifty times. And nothing’s happened. I want to make sure it’s filed. I want that deal blocked!” The same source told Mayer that after that same meeting with President Trump, Cohn told Kelly, “Don’t you fucking dare call the Justice Department. We are not going to do business that way.”

Department of Justice officials have repeatedly insisted that the President’s opposition to the merger had no effect on their actions in opposing the merger. Mayer’s story, however, suggests that the President wanted to block the deal as “some sort of punishment for CNN, one of Time Warner’s more valuable assets, and to benefit Murdoch.” Blair Levin, a former Federal Communications Commission official, describes Murdoch as “an incredibly cunning political player. He leaves no fingerprints. He’s been in the game of influencing government behavior to his benefit longer than most of us have been alive.” Since President Trump has come into office, Murdoch’s companies have benefited from decisions by federal regulators like the Department of Justice and the Federal Communications Commission.

The President has previously, reportedly, tried to use the United States Postal Service to punish Amazon by raising rates on packages. Further, the United States Treasury then assembled a task force at the President’s behest to determine whether or not Amazon was costing the United States “massive amounts of money” in a “scam” on American taxpayers.

Additional Reading

Trump reportedly tried to order a lawsuit to block the AT&T/Time Warner merger, Recode (March 4, 2019)

The Making of the Fox News White House, The New Yorker (March 4, 2019)